Swinging into theaters this week with wit and heart is Spider–Man: Homecoming, a fresh collaboration between Marvel and Sony that is sure to please comic book fans and moviegoers alike.
Directed by Jon Watts (Clown, Cop Car), Spider–Man: Homecoming picks up amid a bustling Marvel Cinematic Universe and skips all the well–established backstory to Peter Parker’s character (ie. no Uncle Ben), instead focusing on a new and humorous adventure in a John Hughes high school setting. From the start, we see how tough high school can be for fifteen–year–old Peter (Tom Holland), as he struggles to keep his dual identities as mundane Peter and heroic Spider–Man secure. Frequent Spider–Man bully, Flash Thompson takes every opportunity to pick on Parker, albeit in new ways from prior renditions of the character. Watts’ treatment of Peter’s personal life and the struggles of high school make it crystal clear why one would feel insecure about themselves and be so anxious to get outside in the Spidey–suit.
While Peter’s high school experience is well–documented, Homecoming offers a unique and satisfying exploration of its villain, Adrian Toomes/The Vulture (Michael Keaton). The film opens eight years in the past, chronicling the history of Toomes and his former job collecting extraterrestrial garbage, following New York’s destruction seen in 2012’s The Avengers. We soon learn that Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has hired a new government organization to take over the clean–up, forcing Keaton and his employees to find new work by selling the illegal alien weapons on the black market. Watts’ focus on the humanity of Toomes and his henchmen was refreshing, as modern comic book films often have underdeveloped villains who plot evil for undisclosed or illogical reasons. Keaton’s performance is expectedly great, and his charisma from past avian films (Batman, Birdman) shines through in Homecoming, and the direction that his character, Toomes, goes in is quite surprising, yet understandable.
After Sam Raimi’s first two marvelous Spider–Man films from the early 2000’s, one could easily have trepidation revisiting this Marvel comic book property, particularly after Sony’s very disappointing “The Amazing Spider–Man” reboots a few years ago. However, Watts’ focus on Peter’s humanity and real–world struggles outside of his superhero mantra grounded the film greatly, which also contributed to the great humor and heart in Homecoming. For the first time in his cinematic history, Spider–Man has a lot of light–hearted quips and childhood nature often seen in the beloved Stan Lee comics, and Tom Holland does a nice job displaying Parker’s naive, yet excited youth personality, which is complemented by a very upbeat soundtrack and pretty good reimagining of the iconic Spider–Man score.
While Holland and Keaton deliver in starring roles, the supporting cast of Homecoming was also strong. Robert Downey Jr was fantastic, as usual, as Tony Stark/Iron Man. Stark presented himself as a more caring superhero, looking out to see that Spider–Man did not overstep and endanger himself. It was great to see Tony Stark mentoring Peter Parker, since their shared scientific interests matched that of Tony with his brilliant father Howard, and the audience could understand why Stark would want to have a more open relationship with Parker, after Stark’s failed one with his father. Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) was another character who added a lot of humor to the Homecoming, acting as a strict instructor for Spider–Man as he adjusts to life as a superhero and high school student.
Spider–Man: Homecoming delivers on all fronts: great visual effects and humor, a fun and energetic storyline, and a fresh spin on the Peter Parker character we have never seen cinematically. While some characters are underused (ie. Aunt May, Michelle had little screen time and plot development), the focus of Homecoming is entirely on Peter Parker and his journey to accept himself for who he is without the Spidey-suit, and director Jon Watts delivers that message home triumphantly.